The $3.5 trillion budget promises Americans 12 weeks of paid leave—and workers are all for it

September 23, 2021, 7:00 PM UTC

After living through the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s no surprise that a majority of Americans place a higher premium on paid time off policies these days. In fact, 7 in 10 voters believe employers should be required to offer paid time off for employees who have been with a company for at least a year, according to a new survey commissioned by the American Council of Life Insurers.

If Biden gets his way, employees may soon have access to more paid leave. The House Ways and Means Committee passed its provisions of the Build Back Better Act reconciliation budget that would allow for 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave for all workers.

Under the proposal, workers could use the 12 weeks for medical leave or to care for new children or family members related by “by blood or affinity” starting in 2023. On average the benefits would pay workers about two-thirds of regular wages. The paid leave would be available for full-time and part-time employees, as well as gig workers and those who are self-employed across all public and private sector companies.

The plan would help subsidize employer-based leave programs already in place—as long as they met the federal minimums—as well as existing state paid-leave programs. Workers who otherwise couldn't access these existing programs would get direct federal benefits. Small employers with less than 50 employees may be eligible for grants to help cover the cost.

Nearly 80% of Americans have access to paid sick leave benefits, but many times they are minimal —and even fewer, 19%, have defined paid family leave benefits through their employer. Currently, American workers receive a median amount of seven paid sick days, while the typical vacation time granted is 10 days, according to the National Partnership for Women & Families.

Some do receive paid time off in the case of medical issues through short-term disability. Nearly half of full-time workers, 47%, and 16% of part-time workers have access to paid leave benefits through their employers’ short-term disability plans, according to ACLI. 

Additionally, nine states and D.C. have passed paid leave programs and are at various stages of implementation, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Some workers also have access to unpaid leave through the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act, but 44% don’t qualify because they’re employed with smaller companies, only work part-time or haven’t been with their employer long enough.

Although the House has approved the paid leave measures, the budget provisions still face an uphill battle in becoming the law of the land. Moderate Democrats in the Senate, including Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), and Republicans have said they wouldn't support a $3.5 trillion price tag, calling for far less spending.

“This package, coupled with the bipartisan infrastructure plan, represents our firm belief that it’s not just the roads that get you to work that require funding, basic supports like child care and paid leave are also essential features of society worthy of investment,” said Ways and Means Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.). “As the broader negotiations continue, I must emphasize that now is not the time to settle for less.”

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